There was understandably more than a few raised eyebrows when West Ham United decided to sign Marko Arnautovic in a club-record deal from Stoke City during the summer transfer window.
The Austria international’s attitude had often come under scrutiny during his time at the Britannia Stadium, while his record of 22 goals in 125 Premier League matches for the Potters and the fact he was due to turn 29 years of age in April didn’t exactly class him as a really positive addition on paper.
Those worries would have been realised when the east London outfit made a disappointing start to the season under former manager Slaven Bilic, and the attacker was sent off for elbowing Southampton defender Jack Stephens just 33 minutes into his second top flight appearance for the Irons.
The 28-year-old was suspended for their following three fixtures in all competitions, and the board would have been fearing the worst about a player they had spent £20m on just a month earlier, with a potential further £5m to follow in add-ons.
Arnautovic failed to score a single goal or provide a single assist before Bilic was sacked following the 4-1 defeat against Liverpool at the London Stadium on November 4, or in any of his first four Premier League appearances under current boss David Moyes.
West Ham’s transfer strategy – which has often been unclear – has come under fire ever since David Gold and David Sullivan became co-owners of the club, and they have often invested in older players with no re-sale value, players like Andy Carroll who have spent much of their time with the club on the sidelines because of injury, and players with no Premier League experience that have proven to be flops.
They have also been involved in embarrassing incidents like the one where Sullivan admitted that his children had begged him not to sign Jose Fonte from Southampton and Robert Snodgrass from Hull City, even though Bilic wanted them.
The addition of Arnautovic was slightly different as he had plenty of Premier League experience and had had few injury issues during his time with Stoke, while at his age he should be in the prime years of his career.
The Austria international’s West Ham career changed following a calculated risk from Moyes that saw the 28-year-old used as a centre-forward in the 1-0 win against Chelsea in December with Carroll injured and Javier Hernandez struggling for form.
The attacker scored the winning goal, and he put in an influential performance that the board and the supporters would have been expecting consistently from the very first minute of his debut.
While he hit a blank in the goalless draw against Arsenal, Arnautovic then netted four goals in his next three Premier League appearances across the festive period.
He was showing the passion he had for the club and that meant he was becoming a real fans’ favourite for the London Stadium faithful.
A last-gasp assist for Andy Carroll in the crucial 2-1 win against West Bromwich Albion on January 2 showed the huge impact he was continuing to have, and he also proved that he was building successful relationships with his teammates after setting up Manuel Lanzini twice in subsequent 4-1 win against Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Having missed the clashes with Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion – which his team only took one point from – because of a hamstring injury, the 28-year-old made a surprise early return to the starting line-up against Watford last weekend, and he found the net again in a 2-0 win.
Arnautovic has seven goals and a further three assists in his last nine top flight matches, and he looks as though he will be the talisman for them in their bid to stay away from the relegation zone in the final 11 league fixtures.
West Ham’s transfer strategy hasn’t always been clear or respected, but on this occasion the club look to have got it spot on with the Austrian being the perfect fit for them at the right time.